Water, water everywhere…

I hope that with this post I can leave the past behind and give SIGG a clean slate. We all know what happened.
If not, read here for a guide to their past transgression. As far as I am concerned they made amends, albeit it a bit late in the game. I am a marketing guy and I know what a hit they took. So kudos to them and yes, I am giving them a second chance (I live, more often than not, by the proverb: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”) Others, I am sure, are less forgiving.

So why exactly do I still swear by SIGG? The main reason is: they are extremely portable and easy for kids to drink from thanks to their lightweight aluminum structure and they are easy to wash without residual odors. This inevitably forces them to have a “food safe” liner which is now 100% BPA-free. I say inevitably because aluminum should not have prolonged direct contact with water. So why not stick with stainless steel, BPA-free plastic or glass? I have done my own (non-scientific) research and weighed the pros and cons of all these materials and decided that I find aluminum fits my needs and habits as a busy dad. Of course, this may not apply to everyone. That’s the beauty of having many different choices!

I do have stainless steel bottles, but they remain at home for “night stand duty” because they are just too heavy to lug around and my son keeps dropping them on his toes because he is still not strong enough to hold on to them. Of course, we have plenty of BPA-free plastic sippy cups at home, but although I do love them all, they all end up in the recycling bin after inevitably attracting all those odors that come from milk, orange juice and fruit shakes (the downside of BPA-free plastics) no matter how vigorously you scrub them. And do I really have to discuss the cons of placing glass anywhere within reach of kids? I am of course always open to information and data that may very well change my mind so I look forward to reading comments.

The bottles, I have found, are surprisingly durable for such lightweight material. They take quite a beating from my son (alright, I admit that I too drop them on occasion) and hold up well (the dents and dinks are inevitable so don’t expect them to bounce off the floor unscathed).

SIGG bottles are another one of those products that for me unite sleek industrial design, whimsical looks and practicality. They are more expensive than comparable stainless steel and BPA-free plastic water bottles that are out there, but I feel that the premium is worth it for all the reasons I listed above, as well as for the available accessories (especially for kids) that are well thought out and useful for when you are on the go.

Two areas in which I feel SIGG has lacked initiative, though, is their US customer service and their US website. The former is certainly of greater concern; the latter is just my marketing instinct kicking in. Premised that I dealt with them mainly at the end of 2009 when they were busy dealing with a major bottle exchange program, but I can only excuse them so much because it was something they should have logistically planned for well in advance. This entails making sure you have enough human resources to deal with the inevitable influx of questions and concerns. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball on this one. I sent several e-mails and responses were slow (a month slow) and often the response felt automated as if they had not read my message at all. In the end, though, they did send me a proper apology note with my credit for the bottles I sent in to exchange.

Their US website is also in serious need of an update. Surprising, given how well the other SIGG worldwide sites are built and branded. This may be due to how they are structured in the US, but I am surprised that in such an important consumer market they have neglected this aspect of their marketing push for so long. Then again, it may be in the works and I just don’t know about it (if SIGG wants to send me more insight I am happy to update the post). Luckily the ordering process is fairly straight forward and delivery fast. I do suspect for several reasons that they are in the process of “relaunching” (and again this is just my gut instinct because I have not spoken directly with SIGG) and frankly I think it would behoove them to do so as part of their brand reset in the US.
I know I have just spent the last couple of paragraphs lauding the advantages of SIGG’s aluminum structure, but I cannot help to mention their SteelWorks line that, unlike their Swiss Made aluminum line, is Made in China (I know what you are thinking, but I am in no way implying that this makes them an inferior product).

I have not gotten my hands on them yet (I am actually waiting to see if they will bring their very cool-looking .6L SteelWorks flasks to the US which are currently only available in Europe), but I will make sure to post a review as soon as I do (and to be as fair as possible I will compare it to other stainless steel water bottles because I am convinced that aluminum is a notch above stainless steel for this product – at least as far as parenting duties and usage are concerned).
I admit I have written more than usual, but you will agree that there was a lot to talk about with regard to SIGG. I hope I have given everyone enough information to draw their own conclusions. Marketing aside, I do believe SIGG water bottles are the best in their niche and they are – in my humble opinion – the benchmark.

Rocking and a rowing…

As I have said before, I am a big fan of beautiful and practical design. Bloom’s CocoStylewood fits that description. The sleek unibody design makes it a welcome addition to a nursery. I confess that at first my son was not thrilled to be rocked in it, but as he grew older he actually sought it out and rocked himself in it – giggling with delight. It has now become his Row, Row, Row Your Boat perch!

I must also confess that if Bloom made an adult size CocoStylewood I would probably be typing this post while rocking in one. The construction is solid* and the micro-suede is very supple. Bloom offers wood and plexi-glass for the unibody base as well as numerous colors of micro-suede. Of course I can never say enough good things about a company that makes children’s products that are lead free, phthalate free, PVC free, heavy metal free, and AZO dye free (you can read the company’s safety and sustainability statement here). After wondering whether this should be on our baby registry I can say that we certainly made the right choice.

*I have to asterisk my solidly built statement because I actually did have a slight problem with my initial CocoStylewood. I can’t say for sure what happened, but the wood “sheets” that build the base separated from each other and as I said it was in the phase in which my son was not so fond of it. Basically, it came unglued. It did not however seem to be cracking or compromising the structure itself. Nonetheless, I did not want to risk it breaking so I gave Bloom a call and they promptly sent a replacement. The new unit has been perfect after much more use than the first unit, so I chalk up the first units glitch to being a one-off. I also have to say that Bloom’s customer service was exemplary and this only makes me recommend their products more emphatically.

Brown bag lunches have just gone “green”…

I am by no means a fanatic, but like many of us I like to do the little things that I hope will make less of a negative impact on the environment. This is true of the environment we live in as well as our body’s environment. We ingest and touch so many toxic chemicals and irritants everyday that I like it when someone comes up with a simple way to reduce that exposure. I am not talking about “earth shattering” reductions, but enough to take another little step in the right direction.

One such product is LunchBots. Made of stainless steel, LunchBots are versatile containers to pack your and your kid’s lunch. They are the perfect solution for avoiding plastic containers for packing lunch and snacks. They do not leach chemicals like plastic does. They are eco-friendly and reusable. And quite frankly they look pretty slick!

I actually own all four sizes: Uno, Duo, Eco and Pico. I have used them often and find them very durable and very useful. They handle everything very well (although I have still not had the courage to test sauces and liquids, but then again I don’t trust those in any container that I have to pack unless it’s a screw top!) and hold up well when tossed around by my son (he is in his “test-all-objects-to-see-if-they-bounce” phase). They wash well in the dishwasher and so far are truly rust-free (something many claim, but never make good on). So I highly recommend them for anyone who packs lunch for themselves or for their kids!

Children’s products useful by design and cool by nature…

One of my favorite companies, as a Dad, is Boon.

I always admire a company that can create children’s products that are useful, safe, aesthetically pleasing and just plain cool. That does not mean these are the only kind of children’s products I like or buy, but I am most attracted by a well-thought out and beautifully designed product. I own and use seven of Boon’s products: Frog Pod, Squirt, Fluid, Catch Bowl, Snack Ball, ModWare and Groovy.

The Frog Pod is a great bathtub accessory. The frog keeps all of my son’s bath time toys in one place and hung to dry when not in use. Since I am often on tub cleaning duty after my wife whisks him off to his room to prep him for bed, I just unhook the Pod from the wall, drag it through the tub (thanks to the “vents”) and quickly pick up all loose toys. Then you just hook it back to the base and the next morning everything is dripped dry! The only thing I would say you need to be aware of is that if you choose to use the suction cups to hook the base to the bathroom tiles do not position the Pod directly under the shower because if a lot of water gets to the suction cups they will (logically) come loose and the whole unit will fall off. Can be a bit jarring to hear that clatter in the middle of the night!

The Squirt, Fluid, Catch Bowl, Snack Ball, ModWare and Groovy are all for different stages of your baby and toddler’s feeding phases. The squirt made feeding homemade fruit and vegetable puree’s to our son, when he was starting on solids, a cinch. The ModWare is a great way to get toddlers to eat their meals without sticking themselves or chiseling “Elmo loves me alot!” into the dining room table! Paired with the Catch Bowl (for anything that could go “splat!”) and Groovy (for less “clean-up” intense food) these utensils have been a great way to get our son to eat with us at the table using our “table-friendly” Tripp Trapp high chair by Stokke (that will be reviewed in upcoming posts).

Two niggles here on two of the Boon products I have used to allay any fears that I am blindly in love with their products (doing get me wrong… I kinda do!). The Fluid allows for great hand control when your kid is ready for what I call “tipping” sippy cups, but (and this problem does not only afflict Boon) does nothing to avoid a steady stream of water when our son decides to play “let’s see how much water I can pour onto the hard wood floor”. The trade off for the “staying put” power of the Catch Bowl is the need for a foot planted against the table, both hands firmly grasping the bowl and all your weight leaning back to pry the sucker (no pun intended) off the table (and often from the sink when you go to wash it out). As I said: “niggles” that do not really downgrade the product experience much nor can I honestly think that there is an easy work around considering that they serve their primary purpose well.

The Snack Ball is probably my favorite Boon product. It is very versatile doubling as a very resistent “ball” to play catch with or a table top bowling ball using toy soldiers as pins. To be honest, I have used it often for my own snacks because as I said before it is just plain cool. I must warn you, though, if you plan on using it for yourself you will have to get used to other parents giving you some dirty looks for apparently depriving your child of their snack!

And it does not end with my review of Boon products because there are two points about this company that I think add value to their products. As a marketing person myself I know how often gimmicks are used by companies to nurture affection from customers more often than not as a facade for lack of quality in their products or services. Boon on the other hand has great products, so they could simply end their offering there, but they strive to make products that are BPA-, Phthalate- and PVC-free and as if that is not enough they have a Giving Back program that has been committed from “Day 1” to donating 10% of profits to charities specifically benefiting children in need. Now if that doesn’t further convince you to grab some Boon products I don’t know what will!

Flying the more parent friendly skies…

Raise your hand if you hate air travel these days? What about with kids? Me too! The security check, the stroller, the other passengers cringing as you look for your seat hoping they are not stuck next to you, the non-stop fidgeting, the guy who insists on putting his chair in your lap while you are trying to feed your kid and so on and so forth.  Well looks like Air New Zealand is going to give their parent passengers a nice look into a potentially more civilized travel future (too bad I will probably never get a chance to fly with them!). The “Skycouch” will allow you to use a continuous flat surface for your kid(s) to play on without worrying about having them stand in the two inches of leg room available to play on the seat. I hope, though, that it will not come with the usual price tag that is not-so-parent-friendly. Stay tuned!

Kiddy Mobility…

This is what I love about having kids: cool kid’s stuff that brings out the kid in the parents.

That is exactly what I thought when I stumbled onto Kaiku (from the Japanese “to grow”). All three of their products (Zen, Pushpull and Strollkart) are clean, simple and sturdy looking.

Created by Scot and Amy Herbst, these three mobile products are designed to get you and the kids out of the house to play. They certainly hark back to the original and still simple design of the Radio Flyer Red Wagon and immediately made me wish I could still fit! Granted that in the Urban Jungle you do not see kids dragging the family dog around in one or using it to setup a lemonade stand, but I can definitely see myself using it to drag everything that is needed when going off to Central Park with my son. If anyone out there has one of these beauties, let me know what you think.

The Art of Shaving…

Very true. This is another topic that has gotten its fair share of over-exposure, but I insist on adding fuel to the fire. The debate rages: straight blade, safety razor or even-safer razor? My humble opinion is this: crazy, closest shave and best for travel.

A straight blade is something only my grandfather could use after doing it everyday for 70 odd years, you need that steady hand and unthinking sweep of the hand with the blade at just the right angle. And yes it does induce “razor envy” when I find anyone who does it regularly in this day and age. Below is a beautiful example made by Dovo in satin stainless (Solingen, Germany is renowned for its stainless steel and razor blades in particular – the call it the City of Blades). A safety razor  (a.k.a DE or Double Edge) is really a great compromise. Your face has to get used to the burn as you learn, but it shaves closer than any disposable you are using. If you want a solid first DE, again look to the Germans and Dovo’s subsidiary Merkur Solingen (yes… the one that produces everyone’s favorite starter – the Merkur HD – shown in the picture below). Otherwise you can do some research and find some great deals on vintage DE’s at online auctions. Make sure to get a box of blades (I will not bother getting into that debate!) and switch them out when you feel them getting dull. The Mach-conFusion end of the spectrum with its dizzying array of blades (how many will the eventually be able to fit into that tiny strip?) and even more daunting price tag, has the benefit of carry-on travel ease of use. Believe me when you have to hit the road for just a couple of days and do not want to add to the nightmare of air travel by checking your overnight bag this is the way to pack. Then again if you can take the train none of the above applies! If you want to go all out and spend a ridiculous sum of money on a really sleek looking Mach-conFusion set I would for the Art of Shaving Gillette Chrome Series Manuel Shaving Set with stand and fine badger brush (not sure if a vibrating razor with a…spotlight?! is worth the extra $50). Now here is where my opinion is unwavering. Brush and soap only. I am not debating this point. It is the only way to prep for a shave – period. I would spring for a badger brush right-off-the-bat unless you want to add brush burn to razor burn. My personal favorite is one I purchased from Fortnum & Mason in London, but everyone has their own personal favorite (e.g. Kent, Edwin Jagger, Vulfix etc.) and it is fun to try out a few and get different shaving experiences from each.

The soap/cream is really a matter of taste. Scented or Unscented. More or less glide. Richer lather Etc. etc. So try a couple out to find your fit. I was quite surprised to find what a nice shave Nomad from Crabtree & Evelyn gave me. Then again I also like Proraso and Taylor of Old Bond Street. So many choices and luckily so much shaving to do!

The wet shave itself is pretty straightforward and here is how I do it (to each his own on finding variations that work):

  1. Use hot water (CAUTION: Content is very hot so don’t blame me if you dunk your hands or face under the faucet!)
  2. Use your slightly wet brush (water should not be dripping from the brush!) to whip up a thick lather (think of Santa’s beard) in a wide mouthed mug or directly in the soap dish if that is what your are using.
  3. Apply lather with brush to your face and neck using a circular motion to help the whiskers stand up and salute the razor (unless you like ingrown facial hair?)
  4. Pull the razor with the grain or across it – never against it (unless you like ingrown facial hair?)
  5. Wash your face to get the residual soap off and rinse your razor and brush (hang the brush upside down for optimal storage… do yourself a favor and buy a bush stand)
  6. Apply cream/balm (unless you have gashes from shaving do not use alcohol-based after shave… if you do have gashes you are not going to be worrying about which after shave to apply!)
  7. Now admire your masterwork in the mirror and whistle appreciatively!

For more tips and incredibly detailed discussions (CAUTION: incredibly detailed!) about shaving you can go to Badger & Blade. I’m guessing if you cannot find an answer there you are out of luck!

The Daddy Diaper Bag…

I doubt many of you will find it hard to believe that my diaper bag of choice is the Jack Spade Dad Field Bag. Mine is navy blue with the orange soccer field changing pad. Sturdy canvas like most of Jack Spade’s field bags. Simple and spacious. It doubles as a laptop bag for my (of course) MacBook Pro. And while changing my little boy it can be used as a cushion for his head. The shoulder strap is perfect for hanging it from the stroller. That pretty much sums it up for me. Not sure you need any other bag to get the job done!

The wheels on the bike go round and round… round and round…

I can’t honestly say this is a review; but rather, this is one of those posts in which I imagine “what if?”. I am going to talk about a couple of bicycles that I am in love with, but probably will never own. So if any of you out there have one of these beauties, please tell me your tale by clicking on the comment “Sticky” symbol at the top of this post and let me live vicariously through your experience.

The first is a simple linear “traditional” bike with a very sleek and modern look. The VANMOOF sold in the U.S. by renowned Areaware.

My second favorite is the Espresso folding bike made by Dahon and now sold by L.L. Bean and other resellers.

And my “Dream Bike” for the Urban Jungle – the IF MODE – made my Pacific Cycles and distributed in the U.S. by Areaware.

I think you should also check out this demo video.

One Ringy Dingy… Two Ringy Dingy…

Although my Lily Tomlin reference is from the not so recent past, I use it to introduce my phone of choice for today and most probably the future. Surprise! I have an iPhone. Full disclosure here – I am somewhat of an Apple fanboy so yes I am terribly biased. I am also a gadget freak as you may have read in my prior posts so I have gone through many (I kid you not!) cell phones. The Palm Treo 650 for me was the Holy Grail of smartphones until the iPhone came along. Some have come close, but there is still nothing out there that matches the iPhone in simplicity, ease-of-use and full integration with my mobility needs. The only criticism is AT&T’s appalling 3G network coverage in New York (and I have heard elsewhere in the U.S.). How do I know that it is the network and not the phone? I travel abroad, often. And in Europe, especially in Italy, which is light years ahead of the U.S. in wireless technology (actually every other country in this world is ahead of the U.S. in this technology) the iPhone just flies on the 3G network (yes they have already rolled out the 7.2Mbps structure). There are many opinions and many critics, but other than battery life (which is just as limited on all smartphones that claim the same capabilities) there really isn’t anything that I need from my smartphone that it does not do better then the others. Granted that was probably the shortest iPhone review ever, but I hope many of you will appreciate that!